Anatomy of a Book Cover
Not too long ago, I received from my pub­lish­er, Guer­ni­ca Edi­tions, the final proof of the cov­er of my new book of poems, Words For What Those Men Have Done—see above—and I am real­ly hap­py with it. The design, of course, is the work of Guernica’s Allen Jomoc, Jr., but the con­cept is large­ly mine.


Almost from the moment Words for What Those Men Have Done start­ed to take shape in my imag­i­na­tion as a book, I thought of it as a com­pan­ion to my first vol­ume of poet­ry, The Silence of Men, pub­lished by CavanKer­ry Press in 2006. The poems in both books emerge from the same set of con­cerns about how the sex­u­al vio­lence I sur­vived as a child has shaped my life as a man and how I, as I live that life, try to hold myself account­able for what I have learned as a sur­vivor. I chose Words for What Those Men Have Done as the title—it’s a line from the last poem in the book—because I want­ed to move from the act of break­ing silence, which is what I did in The Silence of Men, to the act of hold­ing “those men” account­able. From explor­ing, in oth­er words, what it means to say, out loud and with­out shame, I was sex­u­al­ly vio­lat­ed to claim­ing the con­se­quences of refus­ing to be silent. I want­ed the cov­ers of the two books to reflect that pro­gres­sion as well.

This is the cov­er for The Silence of Men, which I think is gor­geous:

Peter Cusack, CavanKerry’s Design and Pro­duc­tion Man­ag­er at the time, actu­al­ly paint­ed that image in response to the poems in the book. In fact, the paint­ing now hangs above my piano:

It’s a very strik­ing cov­er. In fact, telling its sto­ry, i.e., that Peter paint­ed it, has helped me sell not a few copies of the book over the years. What struck me as I thought about the con­nec­tion I want­ed to estab­lish between it and Words for What Those Men Have Done, how­ev­er, was my sense that the man on the cov­er of The Silence of Men is, at one and the same time, a man being silenced (by flow­ers!) about things that have happened/been done to him and a man being silenced about what he has witnessed—about, in oth­er words, things that hap­pened to oth­ers, that he has seen, and that he does not yet have words for.

So, when Guernica’s edi­tor Michael Mirol­la asked me for con­cept and art sug­ges­tions for the cov­er of the new book, I went look­ing through the images I own for pic­tures that would do two things: car­ry over the theme of bear­ing wit­ness from one book cov­er to the next and sug­gest the process of find­ing a way to com­mu­ni­cate the trau­ma that was wit­nessed.

The first image I found is one that I’ve used on this blog before, which reminds of the kind of self-por­trait a child who’s been vio­lat­ed might draw when asked to by, say, a ther­a­pist:

The sec­ond image I sent Michael is also one I’ve used before, a man’s eye look­ing straight ahead through a pair of glass­es:

It turned out, though, that I didn’t have a file with high enough res­o­lu­tion for that image to work, and so Michael sug­gest­ed the pic­ture that we ulti­mate­ly used:

The result is not just real­ly cool on its own; it inter­acts with the title, Words of What Those Men Have Done, in just the way I want it to, while also car­ry­ing over the themes from the cov­er of The Silence of Men in just the way I was hop­ing for.

Words of What Those Men Have Done will be out this fall.


  • Mal­colm Chang Posted July 28, 2017 9:11 am

    Gor­geous cov­er and an inter­est­ing process!

    • rich­new­man Posted July 28, 2017 9:16 am

      Thanks, Mal­com!

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: